MELBOURNE: A controversial run-out of Rodney Hogg that set the tone for a rancorous series, the first of Allan Border’s 27 Test centuries, and an Australian collapse that made Hobart, 2016, seem like a runfest. The Australia-Pakistan Test at the MCG in 1979 was brimming with moments for the ages. The reason for the 5-7 collapse – and that’s an Australian collapse in name and number, being seven wickets for five runs, not an English five for seven – was to reach further into the future than Border’s long career or even Hogg’s tour on the “sporties” circuit, which of course is ongoing. So far that it might be the crucial factor in the second Test starting today at the same venue. Here, 37 years ago, reverse swing announced itself in a puff of MCG dust. Several puffs, as Sarfraz Nawaz took 7-1 to rout Australia and deliver, as skipper Mushtaq Mohammad described it in the days before the word became such a cliche, a “miracle” 71-run victory. “That’s as good a description as any, I guess,” Australia captain Graham Yallop wrote in Lambs to the Slaughter, his polemic to an extraordinary 1978-79 season. “When I realised that Sarfraz had captured 7-1, I almost fell over,” he wrote. “He is an honest trundler, but glory, 7-1 in a Test match (at this point Yallop included an exclamation point and, deciding that was not enough in the extreme circumstances, added a second for effect). “This was a freak happening.”
Yallop’s account, written immediately after the series, shows even after being demolished by Sarfraz’s wrecking ball, they had no idea it was a new type, a new style, of bowling, as new as the first leg-break or the first off-cutter. Yes, reverse swing had been bowled before. But no one had unleashed it with such telling effect in a Test. And unleashed it on guileless batsmen naive to its power. According to Wisden, an organ not prone to exaggeration, Sarfraz’s 9-86, “represented one of the greatest bowling feats in the history of Test cricket”. At the time, it was the fourth-best haul in Tests. No other Pakistani, including the great Imran Khan, took a wicket in the innings – the 10th was a run-out, as was the Australians’ wont in a summer where they racked up almost as many run-outs (15) as they did debutants. The Establishment team’s two-Test series against Pakistan came after Yallop’s young team was walloped 5-1 in the Ashes. (Australia went on to win the second Test in Perth by seven wickets: that Test included Andrew Hilditch being given out for handling the ball and Alan Hurst’s “Mankad” dismissal of Sikander Bakht). After knocking over the strong Pakistan side – which included Zaheer Khan, Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad – for 196 in the first innings in Melbourne, the Australians responded with 168 in what Yallop branded a “pantomime of past mistakes”. “After so many run-outs this summer I could not believe that we had found a new way to end an opening stand. “Our openers ran into each other. I still can’t believe it.”
In a textbook case of ball-watching, Hilditch and Graeme Wood collided as they both admired the latter’s pull shot. Wood retired hurt. A shaken Hilditch was soon out for three. Later, Hogg wandered out to do some gardening and was run out by Miandad. When he was recalled, and then given out again, Hogg smashed down the stumps. Majid Khan made 108 in Pakistan’s second-innings 9-353 declared, setting the hosts 382 for victory in what would have been a record chase in Australia. They should have done it. Border (105) and Kym Hughes (84) combined for a record fourth-wicket stand of 177 and the score was 3-305 before the grim Sarfraz scythed his way through the Australians. With a 10-step run-up and an earthbound delivery stride, Sarfraz was an airport travelator of a bowler. His approach and delivery was as austere and stiff as his opening partner Imran’s was free and fluid. Still, it’s hard to be expansive when you’re hiding the reversing ball in hands clasped in front of your chest. He needn’t have worried. The Australians had no idea what was happening. “Yallop appears to be having all sorts of problems seeing it,” exclaimed Drew Morphett from the ABC commentary box. Fellow commentator Keith Miller blamed not an entirely new type of bowling, but an entirely new type of protection: Miller thought Yallop was having trouble seeing the ball through his newfangled Perspex visor. “I don’t know why they wear it really,” Miller said. Not all of them were. Helmets were in their infancy and players such as Border and Hughes batted in caps. And so it came to pass that Sarfraz gave cricket more than a nickname for former Australian Test seamer Stuart Clark. And the end of the series, Yallop predicted a big future for Border but also for players such as new keeper Kevin Wright. But when the Australian Cricket Board and Kerry Packer reconciled later that year, Wright was supplanted by Rod Marsh at not only Test level but also for Western Australia. The Sarfraz Test contains lessons for a new age: the young Australian batsmen had better beware the reverse swing handed down through Imran, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis to the contemporary Pakistani quicks. For the red ball will reverse more than the pink.